BBG Watch Commentary
One of the senior central English newsroom reporters working for the U.S. taxpayer-funded ($221 million in FY 2017) Voice of America (VOA) posted to friends on a private Facebook page some sharp words addressed to President Donald Trump.
VOICE OF AMERICA REPORTER:
“Just as importantly, we’re all colleagues – journalists who face an increasingly hostile, even lethal, environment. And for the record, POTUS, we are NOT the enemies of the people. We ARE the enemies of falsehood, of distortion, and plutocracy.”
While there is nothing wrong with Americans expressing strong displeasure with President Trump, a VOA reporter, who is also a U.S. government employee and must abide by the VOA Charter, which is U.S. law, betrays a certain measure of personal political bias when making personal political views public, or semi-public as in this case.
The audience is alerted through such social media posts that VOA reporters strongly dislike President Trump but fail to be equally critical and journalistically inquisitive toward his political opponents. Whenever VOA reporters fail to acknowledge the existence of the other side of any controversy — such as the alleged bias of some reporters toward Trump and their one-sided reporting that amounts to commentary and attack — audiences are likely to perceive all VOA reporting as being influenced by personal bias.
A personal rebuke of a newsmaker, whether applying to President Trump or any of his Democratic critics, should not be posted by any news reporter working for any American news organization, whether government-managed as in the case of VOA, or private.
Commentators or political experts should, of course, have no limits on expressing their personal views as long as they clearly identify themselves as commentators rather than reporters. In the case of VOA, the VOA Charter requires that any such commentaries have proper balance of view, pro and con.
But a news reporter, especially a news reporter working for the U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America who collects his or her federal salary and U.S. government employment benefits, should not make public his or her personal political views. These comments are seen by many people, even if they are posted on a private Facebook page. They are likely to be widely shared. U.S. taxpayers might object that their tax money is used to attack a U.S. political figure in a one-sided manner, especially if such an attack is posted during an official government-paid work assignment. Not just Trump supporters but also Bernie Sanders’ supporters objected to what they called as one-sided “state media” libel attacks by the Voice of America.
While this comment was posted on a private Facebook page, it was widely circulated among VOA English newsroom reporters, some of whom left encouraging comments. Other VOA reporters posted even more strident content on Facebook, including public posts in which they called Donald Trump an “F-word.” One of VOA foreign language services produced a video in which Donald Trump was called by a Hollywood actor “pig,” “dog” and other insulting names without any balance or a response. The video was eventually removed after much criticism.
It is obvious that neither VOA director Amanda Bennett, her deputy Sandy Sugawara nor Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) CEO John Lansing and his deputy Jeff Trimble have a handle on the situation. Partisan bias in VOA program content has reached unprecedented levels under their watch and employee morale has reached unprecedented low depths, as shown by the 2017 OPM’s Federal Employee Viewpoint Survey. Low morale is an “existential threat” to the Voice of America, the union representing Broadcasting Board of Governors employees said. Where there is low morale and poor leadership in any media organization, violations of journalistic standards become a daily occurrence.